When more is more: ten OTT movie classics
Master of disaster Michael Bay's 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' throws in everything but a robot that turns into a kitchen sink in its pursuit of audience-bludgeoning cinematic excess (and massive box office returns). To celebrate, we pick ten totally OTT films that push the boundaries of taste, decency, budget and common sense...
A Night at the Opera (1937)Not to be confused with the Queen album of the same name (though it is similarly unhinged), ‘A Night at the Opera’, pretty much just grafts the Marx Brothers’ winning everything-in-the-pot formula on to the toffee-nosed world of high art. Groucho is Otis B Driftwood, a silver-tongued shyster (as per) attempting to wheedle money out of Margaret Dumont’s rich widow. Set-pieces, wisecracks and witty songs abound, and the opera house finale sees the stuffed-shirts get what’s coming to them.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)The director’s cut of Stanley Kramer’s unglued laughter marathon locks down at a cool 192 minutes, but even that's a bit of a squeeze considering the talent involved in this, the ‘War and Peace’ of ensemble madcap treasure hunts. Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and Terry Thomas are just a few of the legends in wild pursuit of buried loot. As a footnote, Kramer was toying with the idea of adding another ‘Mad’ to the title only to decide that it would be a little – and you’ll like this! – excessive.
Blazing Saddles (1974)Having rattled a few cages with his Nazi musical comedy ‘The Producers’, it was unlikely that Mel Brooks was going to begin troubling the arthouse brigade. His satirical Western still manages to shock with its close-to-the-bone depiction of the racist attitudes whipped up when black sheriff Cleavon Little is called upon to uphold the law in the frontier town of Rock Ridge. But it’s the explosive climax that wins ‘Blazing Saddles’ a place on this list, as a hootin’ and hollerin’ high-plains lynch mob cause such a ruckus that they spill out of the Old West, into the adjoining set, and into the streets of 1970s Hollywood.
The Bugs Bunny / Roadrunner Movie (1979)No one has ever choreographed big-screen mayhem better than Chuck Jones. This compilation movie collects the best cartoons Jones and his compatriots created for Warners throughout the ’40s and ’50s, starring the titular twosome alongside Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and various speech-impeded nemeses. Sure, they’re fast, furious and astonishingly brutal, but what viewers tend to forget is how irreverent these shorts were, lampooning everything from Wagner (‘What’s Opera, Doc?’) to Robin Hood (‘Robin Hood Daffy’). Perhaps most mindblowing of all is ‘Duck Amuck’ a post-modern psychedelic nightmare in which Daffy Duck becomes embroiled in an existential tete-a-tete with the animator himself.
1941 (1979)Spielberg was on such a hot streak after ‘Jaws’ and ‘Close Encounters’ that when he elected to make a zany comedy based on the panic that paralysed the West Coast after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was gifted a huge budget, John Wayne informing him he was being ‘unpatriotic’ and a wildly eccentric cast that included John Belushi, Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee. The subsequent film gamely, but entirely unsuccessfully, attempts to bolt cartoon slapstick and eye-poppin’ dance numbers on to such chortlesome events as the shelling of an oil refinery and the Zoot Suit Riots (explored in greater detail by that other comedy great James Ellroy in ‘The Black Dahlia’). Steve hasn’t gone back to comedy since – unless you count ‘AI'.
Braindead (1992)Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy confirmed his reputation as the most wildly inventive action director around, but it all began with this manic slice of unholy slapstick splatter. The plot – in which an ancient monkey virus causes the residents of 1950s New Zealand to begin rising from the grave – is at best a rickety frame on which to hang a series of mind-melting cartoon setpieces, from a graveyard smackdown interrupted by a kung-fu fighting priest (‘I kick arse for the Lord!’) to the climactic bloodbath in which our bespectacled hero takes on a houseful of zombie flesheaters armed only with the business end of a garden mower.
Natural Born Killers (1994)The unremitting gore onslaught delivered by Oliver Stone’s ‘NBK’ made it the instant scourge of jumped-up Daily Mail readers across the land. Of course, all the moments of hyperstylised bloodshed (and there are many) come swaddled in hulking quotation marks, as Stone and writer Quentin Tarantino assure us that what we’re watching is actually a treatise on the causes and effects of violence, and if we’re getting off on the sight of two sexy serial killers with seriously itchy trigger fingers blowing all manner of innocent folk to kingdom come, then we’re, like, part of the problem, man.
Broken Arrow (1996)Hyperkinetic Hong Kong director John Woo’s second Stateside effort was emblematic of his entire Hollywood sojourn: heavy on the style, packed with more ideas than it could use and leaving absolutely no impression whatsoever. ‘Prepare to Go Ballistic’ read the tagline, and Woo obliged by setting off a nuclear device in the middle of this breathless potboiler. Not at the end, mind you; in the middle. Not even Woo could take the action to the next level after that, but he stuffs the last hour with so many tricked-out speedboats, choice lines (like Travolta’s famously appropriated “ain’t it cool?!”), unspooling helicopters and derailed trains that we’re kept too busy to care.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)Everything plus le kitchen sink went into this hysterical historical French offering based around the mysterious 'Beast of Gévaudan' killings of the seventeenth century. But director Christophe Gans’s wonderfully mounted and incredibly tense creature-feature – in which a mountainous region is terrorised by a phantasmagorical monster – proves merely a backdrop for some wily political conniving, incest, top-notch martial artistry, Mark Dacascos as an Iroquois warrior, the French Revolution, some chocolate-box erotica and Vincent Cassel turning it up way past eleven.
Observe and Report (2009)2009 is shaping up as a banner year for cinematic excess, with widescreen epics like ‘Watchmen’ and the new ‘Transformers’ movie competing with balls-to-the-wall comedies like this astonishing Seth Rogen vehicle. Coming on like a slapstick ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Observe and Report’ presents a deeply worrying portrait of a multicultural American mall stalked by a psychotic, drug-addled vigilante security guard. With scenes of theft, coke-bingeing, date rape, rampant self-hatred, debilitating alcoholism and brutal violence against cops, shoppers and teenage skateboarders, this is no-holds-barred sledgehammer satire in its most brutal and direct form.
Author: Adam Lee Davies, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston
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